Sure, everyone paints the town green on St. Patrick’s Day, but sporting shamrocks, drinking enough beer to drown a fish and sitting down to the traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage do not a true Irishman make.
In fact, the corned beef and cabbage dish isn’t quite as traditional as most Americans think. That’s why this year we decided to set the record straight. We’re going way old school and celebrating the feast of the patron saint with these authentic dishes (we even dug up their origins).
Born from necessity in a country wracked by poverty, real-deal Irish cuisine was rustic “peasant” dishes that made use of whatever was available and was cooked over open hearths. The ingredients may have been minimal, but the taste of this comfort food was hearty and full on the tongue.
So show off your inner Irish AND impress your friends by testing your luck (Get it? Like luck o’ the…oh, never mind!) with these heart-warming, belly-filling, finger-licking recipes. Sláinte!
If there ever were a dish that spoke of its culture’s history in every bite, it’s the iconic Irish stew. Irish stew, Ballymaloe or Stobhach Gaelach in Gaelic, was recognized as the national dish of Ireland as early as the 18th century. And for good reason. It contained the two staples the Irish subsisted on: root crops and mutton.
Flocks of sheep were raised for wool, milk and cheese and were slaughtered only after they’d exhausted their productive years. The resulting mutton was tough and took hours of simmering over an open fire to tenderize — but the neck bones, shank and trimmings lent just enough flavor to this hearty stew.
Purists argue that only potatoes and onions should round out the dish, but many cooks often add carrots, parsnips, peas and barley. Some contemporary recipes even elevate this simple peasant meal to gourmet, restaurant-quality food. But if you strip it back to its roots, this filling, homey stew will certainly hit the spot on a frosty night, and, as the old ballad contends, will make you “Then hurrah for an Irish stew, that will stick to your belly like glue.”
Traditional soda bread’s about as Irish as you can get. But it’s suffering from a case of stolen identity. Although every Irish soda bread recipe you’ve seen — including your great grandmother’s — probably calls for raisins, caraway seeds, nuts or cranberries, the original soda bread is not a dessert or sweet “tea cake” (those jazzed-up versions are often called Spotted Dog).
Invented when baking soda became commercially available in the early 19th century, soda bread required only the most basic ingredients that people typically had on hand: flour, salt, baking soda and buttermilk. Most Irish families lived in farmhouses without ovens and baked the bread on griddles or in a bastible — a large, cast-iron pot — over fragrant turf fires. The end product was a craggy-crusted, tender loaf with a slightly sour tang and a dense chew.
Try your hand at this quick, simple bread (and mark it with a cross to protect your home from evil spirits), and you might find yourself making this rustic recipe daily!
What would a list of traditional Irish dishes be without potatoes? Because the Irish know how to do up the tuber in so many ways, this recipe alone has three variations: pan boxty, loaf boxty and boiled boxty. Pan boxty (sometimes, boxdy), native to the northwest swath of Ireland, is your ordinary potato pancake with extraordinary taste.
Boxty dates back to before the potato famine, but its use of half raw potatoes and half cooked/leftover potatoes may have been a way to stretch the crop further during the Great Hunger. This simple, humble recipe was so well loved, it even inspired a folk rhyme: “Boxty on the griddle, boxty on the pan, if you can’t make boxty, you’ll never get a man.”
The rhyme may be woefully outdated, but serve boxty hot off the pan, and you’ll see what they were getting at.
Colcannon, derived from the Gaelic cál ceannann, which literally translates to “white-headed cabbage,” is a mouth-watering dish of potatoes mashed with cabbage (or kale) and onions. But the real pièce de résistance is the well of melted, golden butter in the center. What could get better than that?
Nothing much, except for this: Colcannon was a widely popular dish made for Halloween celebrations and portended marriage. Charms were hidden in the potatoes, and any unmarried girl who found one would fill her socks with spoonfuls of colcannon and hang them from the front door. The first man through the door would become her husband.
We’re not so sure potatoes can divine your future marriage, but we are sure that this tantalizing recipe can divine your future happiness. Because, potatoes — and butter. It will certainly have you singing, “Oh, wasn’t it the happy days when troubles we had not, and our mothers made colcannon in the little skillet pot.”